Billion people, billion protestsAug 10th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Delhiwaalah, Inside Delhi
If Mahatma Gandhi got us freedom through non-violence, he also bequeathed us the art of protest. People’s anger, frustration, anxiety, deprivation and sadness often manifest themselves in the form of protests, rallies, demonstrations or riots. Jantar Mantar in New Delhi has become a favourite spot for people who have been wronged in some way. Several have made the pavement outside the astronomical observatory their home and have been sitting there in protest for years. Some have also parked themselves without any apparent cause, as it is deemed a safe place from where nobody can remove them. A mini slum has therefore arisen near this tourist spot in the heart of the Capital.
A tea stall owner, who has observed the protestors for the past 20 years, says the area is highly unsafe after 9 p.m. The man alleges that thefts and many violent crimes have been committed while police officials stood as mute spectators. He also says most of the protestors work in offices during the day, eat in the gurdwara nearby and come to sleep in their tents only at night. The protestors though affirm they are here for a cause. Officials however, maintain the area is under constant police surveillance and PCR vans are stationed at all times to prevent any disturbance. The police officials patrolling the area have got used to the presence of protestors for they appear to have become permanent residents of a ‘colony’. Their numbers swell whenever Parliament is in session and a new bill is passed or when a politician decides to visit.
Commenting on why Jantar Mantar is the chosen spot, the officials feel the area’s connectivity acts as a magnet. Its proximity to Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhawan and the PM’s residence works in its favour. Also, whenever a protestor comes with a petition, the officials take him to the concerned department and help him file the application. The officers say that though the protests are usually peaceful, infighting within the protestors is often a cause of worry. Moreover, whenever a protestor falls sick, it is the responsibility of the police officials to get him urgent medical aid. This happens only at Jantar Mantar.
“I will not speak to the media. If they wanted to talk to me, they should have come earlier,” declares 90-year-old Devi Singh Suryavanshi who has been sitting in protest for the past three years. Wearing only a dhoti, he sits royally in his battered old tent and examines you intently. One can see his bones jutting out and his eyes appear sunken.
Devi Singh has launched a one man ‘Sangharsh Morcha’ against all the evils prevalent in our society. He is not fighting for one cause but is against all forms of corruption and injustice. The slaughter of innocent children in Nithari and the alleged subsequent bias in favour of the rich and influential Pandher brought Devi Singh on the road in protest. He says he does not have any faith in the government or the law and considers himself a revolutionary like Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad and Subhash Chandra Bose. He believes the people ruling us today are capable of selling their motherland for their personal gains. He aims to mobilise the masses so that they rise against oppression. Though he claims to be illiterate, his tent is littered with stacks of newspapers. From every newspaper, he has extracted reports that reveal the government’s failure or highlight some social cause. He has carefully put them in a folder which he shows you just to substantiate his stand. Devi Singh has been there for long and witnessed several illegal activities. He alleges that police officials and protestors drink heavily after nightfall and that police also come and demand bribes openly.
He says some time back an SHO from a nearby police station arrested him and beat him up badly.
Four men clad in torn dhotis stand up from the pavement to greet you. You see a flicker of hope in their sad eyes. They are poor, homeless and have borne atrocities. Yet, they are determined to bring justice to the people of Chhattisgarh.
On July 23, 2009, these men decided to launch a protest against Naxalism. Their mission — the ‘Chattisgarh Adivasi Andolan’ attempts to draw the spotlight on the atrocities committed by Naxalites on the scheduled tribes of Chhattisgarh. Around 5710 poor, homeless people have been slaughtered by the Naxals, they claim, yet the government turns a blind eye towards this grave issue.
Living in makeshift tents, these people have undertaken rigorous hunger strikes. One man stays on a hunger strike for six days and then on the seventh day, he is replaced by a fellow protestor who takes the strike forward. The movement started with a large number of supporters but many lost hope and could not bear the hardships. The heavy downpour on July 27 swept away their rations and their tent was blown away. Six people fell ill. Yet they continue their strike.
An old man with flowing white hair, dressed like the Mahatma, sits on the pavement protesting against the recent High Court order legalising consensual homosexual relations in India. Sahodaran Aniyan is a missionary from Kerala and an ardent follower of Christ’s teachings. He has launched the ‘V4Life Campaign’ to bring the misguided millions back on the path of virtue.
“It is late but not too late…wake up… our families are in danger,” proclaims a bold sign. Sahodaran Aniyan has been sitting behind these signs since July 20, 2009 from nine in the morning till five in the evening. According to Aniyan, homosexuality is a disease that must be cured as it promotes all evils in the society and weakens the Indian family system. He has also planned a padyatra from Kanyakumari to New Delhi from August 16 onwards.
As one enters the road behind Jantar Mantar, one is greeted by the cry, “We want a separate state.” A man with distinct North-Eastern features stands before a mike addressing no one in particular but the country at large. He demands a separate state for his people, who were the original inhabitants of Tripura. In a flimsy tent on the roadside, approximately 15 people from this state have come together under the banner of ‘Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura’ and begun a sit-in to highlight their problems.
The protestors are agonised by the fact that though they were the initial rulers of the land, refugees who came to India from Bangladesh now constitute about 70 per cent of the population and wield significant power. The individuality of the native tribes has been destroyed and their culture has become grossly distorted.